Monthly Archives: October 2007

Want your viral marketing to succeed? Try prayer.


Seth Godin has said that the difference between word of mouth and viral marketing is that words passed from friend to friend diminish, while viral communications go exponential. This is why if you tell two friends about a great restaurant, they may only tell one friend, and the message ends up dying … but if you bought your kid a Razor Scooter in 2000, soon everyone in the world had one.

Of course, marketers all want to become the next big viral thing so they can generate demand without spending big on advertising. Which poses the question … is there a happy medium? Can we create messages that become self-sustaining, that don’t die out, but continue to slowly grow? Is it possible to achieve marketing perpetual motion?

The answer may lie in religion. Of all the messages from human communication, spirituality is the most sustaining. Put aside your personal beliefs (or disbeliefs) for a second and consider the facts. Of the 6.75 billion people in the world, 87.3% of them consider themselves religious. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are the three largest, encompassing just over 4 billion people. These messages have been around for centuries, without a lot of marketing, and get passed along primarily by word of mouth. Why? Because the content of the message is very powerful (if you believe, it could save your life), and so this strong idea overcomes the innate friction in word of mouth dynamics.

The religions with the heaviest marketing or public relations tend to grow fastest. Islam membership is increasing in the world today, perhaps due to the PR focus brought to it in the Middle East by the controversial Western presence there. In the U.S., the fastest growing religion is Mormonism, which does heavy marketing including a “sales force” of young missionaries knocking door to door.


What makes religion so growable? Break down its components and you see:

– a clear value proposition (we’ll save you)
– a community of membership (join others)
– some exclusivity (you’re a member but others are not)
– frequent touch points to reinforce the message (church every week)
– reinforcement of the message (small pieces of a broader message are given a bit at a time)
– connection to the consumer’s own life (for example, in Christianity, the Sundays often go through an annual calendar cycle tied closely to the seasons, with Christmas, Easter, etc.)
– co-opting of the local culture (Christianity did this with many holidays, including the December date of Christmas, vs. the consensus of many scholars that Christ would have been born in the spring while the “shepherds were out tending their flocks”)
– switching costs (if you leave, the community will disapprove of you)
– some skin in the game (you often have to give up something, such as tithing or time, to participate)
– a migration of the message from an initial early-adopter radicalism to a more mainstream conservatism (for evidence of a religion’s transition, just look at the altar in front of your church, and ask yourself — what kind of sacrifice was that flat platform originally for?)
– and, perhaps most important, a focus on the consumer’s lifecycle (by engaging them early in their lives and moving them up into loyalty status, through a series of escalating responsibilities).

If you boil it all down, religion offers a powerful message, a powerful benefit, a close-knit club, switching costs, and ties to your broader lifestyle. It has one basic objective: To create a community of loyalists, who work to attract other loyalists. The closest analogy we see in marketing today are the new social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Windows Live Spaces, Flickr and Orkut, where small close-knit communities mirror the consumer’s own personal world.

We’re not saying any religion is right or wrong. We just suggest that, as a communications vehicle, religion is the most brilliant case study for marketers trying to make their message stick. It has to be, because evolutionarily only the strongest messages can survive for centuries in a world of consumer choice.

Correlation does not equal causation. Smokers rejoice.


If you dig data, you could still choke on the 25-pound Historical Statistics of the United States, available for only $940.50 at Amazon.com. P. J. O’Rourke dissects it in The Atlantic pointing out the problem with data. Americans are eating less red meat and more vegetables, but still getting fatter. Divorces are down, but suicides are up. And — get this — from 1973 to 1994, smoking rates fell from 4,148 cigarettes per capita to 2,493, yet lung and bronchial cancer diagnoses are up 34%.

The message: Stopping smoking is dangerous, because without cigarettes you may get cancer.

The trouble with data like this is it is too easy to jump to conclusions, and to assume a change in A must drive a resulting change in B. Marketers run into this all the time measuring campaign results. Three common mistakes in advertising measurement are (a) setting metrics up too broadly so you cannot accurately track individual responses to individual ads, (b) neglecting to consider the impact of competitors on your results, or (c) failing to evaluate how shifts in ad channels affect each other. We’ve seen many clients with declines in print response AND increases in internet response who cannot connect these dots. In other cases, we’ve seen advertising results fall for no apparent reason — until we begin tracking the major competitor moves whose gravity is causing our client’s prospects to swing out of orbit.

Measurement is hazardous, because the wrong assumptions can lead to the wrong decision. Cause and effect, or effects with no cause? Until we figure it out, it’s probably best to stop smoking.

Browsers get hungry, start snacking on software

The UK magazine Web Designer, a brilliant pub about web trends that perversely gives almost no content away on its web site, explains in Issue 136 how to move a web site outside a browser window — to take over the entire user’s computer screen. You’ve seen this at work at YouTube, if you hit “full screen mode” on the video.

This is much more than a design gimmick. If web sites can now go full-screen, and run programs, and store your data, then what is the point of desktop software? As this trend continues, companies that rely on PC-bound software (Microsoft) or PCs with complex innards (Dell, HP) are going to get hammered. All users will need is a screen, and everything else they want will be found online.

The impact on online advertising could be huge, since as content, utility, and storage move out of our homes or offices into the great wide web, it will become easier and cheaper for consumers to have multiple entry points into the internet. The screen in your car, the screen on your iPhone, the screen tablet in your briefcase, and the screen at the hotel lobby check in will all tie in to your online data systems. More points of entry, at a lower user cost, will create more time than ever before online. Facebook, for example, is really a new operating system that is housed online. You can run programs, communicate, store contacts, keep photos and files, all online — all you need is a screen to get in. Back in 1995, Facebook itself would have made a high-end computer.

All this, in turn, will continue the cannibalization of other media as consumers shift their routines to internet usage, vs. broadcast receptivity. To see full-screen web in action, check out papervision3d, which can turn your entire screen into a fish tank, or Sequence Post, a UK site showcasing high-end video work. More is coming.

The viral messaging of a movie star


Friday night, Amtrak back from D.C., we’re in the café car, and this bald guy in a blue jacket in front of us orders a drink. There’s something about the way he orders that gets attention. He makes a joke about a glass with ice, his smile twists into a dimple, and a blonde woman next to him starts blushing furiously. We think — hey, that’s Stanley Tucci.

For those who know, Tucci is an actor with serious chops, going the distance with Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Peter Jackson. But for marketers, the interesting thing about the exchange was what happened later. Tucci on the train created a viral marketing case study.

We go back to our seat, and for about 60 minutes no one says anything. And then, strangers start chatting.

Did you hear there’s a movie star on the train?
I can’t remember that guy’s name, but I love him.
Wasn’t he in that film Devil Wears Prada?
I think he’s filming in Philadelphia with Peter Jackson.

Somehow, the ideavirus of Stanley Tucci slowly spread across the train, until it reached a subtle tipping point and everyone knew. Stanley got off in Stamford, and people kept chatting. One woman who shook his hand kept recounting the story. And then the news slowly died off … like the exponential and then diminishing curve of a viral infection.

Sure hope that guy wasn’t carrying anything serious.

The lights were on, but no one was home


Jogged around the White House today in D.C., got a great view of the fence. Occurs to us there is a missed opportunity here for the President and the incumbent Republicans to market to the mass of citizens, giddily ogling the famed white building. The view isn’t so hot, especially on a rainy day. Imagine if they had some fun kiosks, talking about everything the President has done for the country, issues dear to the Republicans’ hearts. Thousands of missed impressions. Instead, we see a big, black, iron gate.

Why serious pubs such as Harper’s and NYT are getting undressed


Sure, sexual imagery in media has been around for a very long time. Way back in August 1997, the dry-as-dust magazine Harper’s published a cover showing an affluent blonde woman losing her top at a cocktail party, breasts almost exposed. Lewis Lapham may be boring, but we’re sure the editor knew this cover art would boost circulation. All kidding aside, it’s no coincidence Harper’s started writing about sex and drugs at the dawn of the internet.

But now, more recently, we note an almost desperate increase in sexual volume in staid, traditional publications. Slate.com recently published a cover story dedicated to the, ahem, female derrière. If our mother had caught us reading such a thing when we were 13, we’d still be grounded. The New York Times leads today with a cover story about how the latest women’s fashion exposes underthings. The online NY Times slide show goes on to cover Madonna back in her translucent bra phase. Wired magazine leads this month with cartoon Manga of a pink-headed schoolgirl looking like this:


We’re not prudes, but we can do the math. The New York Times now features 44 bloggers on its blog index, compared to only 43 news content categories on its home page. Some of these are brilliant blogs, such as Freakonomics, but others are merely repackaged op-ed pieces. We don’t see this as a fad or trend. We think the democratization of media has moved off the printing press and is now empowered by individual bloggers with laptops trying to build their own mini-media empires. Some of the new contributors, such as the Huffington Post, will take off and become media vehicles in their own right. Others, such as Seth’s blog or the designer Darryl Ohrt, will find niche audiences that are smaller in numbers, but highly attuned.

Media is moving from a many-to-one to a one-to-many model. This trend will continue, as the input devices get smaller and more mobile, linked into the mass of Internet audiences via Apple iGlass-thingadohickies. The mainstream press is struggling as its audience abandons it for the smaller, more creative, more cutting-edge authors on the blogosphere. Sure, some big news players will survive. But as they try to do so, they’ll leave us with erogenous NY Times features such as NYT’s profile of Madonna looking like this …

Help. I’m rising and I can’t get out.


What the failing interface is up with JW Marriott’s new elevators? Holy confusion, ad man. Show up in Washington D.C. after a long evening of travel, make it past security and the front desk, who will question your government contractor status, and yes, you are confronted with The Miconic 10 Elevator Management System. In simple terms, this elevator has buttons on the outside — in the lobby — for your floor, and no buttons inside where you’d expect them.

We’re sure mathematically this wondrous machine whisks people up to the 10th floor more quickly, but the user experience is totally counterintuitive. You have to punch in your floor number while standing outside the elevator doors in the lobby, look up, see which elevator gets “assigned” to you, and then walk inside the steel vault where no buttons will allow you to escape until you get to the designated floor. We recall an article in The New Yorker or WSJ somewhere explaining the math behind this, and how it reduces the average wait-and-travel time for optimal human transportation efficiency.

But damn. We felt like cattle in the chute, looking around bovinely, trying to figure out what all the bright lights meant. Is that my elevator over there? No there! Hey I’m in — can I get out? And why are you putting a prod in the back of my skull?

Our point, marketers, is that in the constant push and pull, yin and yang, love-hate of efficiency vs. design, sometimes numbers don’t win. Sometimes — gasp — design rules the day. And the Miconic 10 is a horrible design. In the consumer touchpoint of getting in a steel box at the end of the day at a hotel in a strange city, we just want to be in control.

We’re especially curious about the ROI of such a system. If Marriott is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovating perfectly good elevators, what is the return? Perhaps business travelers will say, man, I got to my floor 3 seconds faster. I’m never staying at Westin again.

6 steps to save 31% of your advertising budget


If you spend $1 million on advertising each year, please don’t throw $310,000 out the window. Here’s a case study to show you how to stop wasting media dollars. Follow this path, your boss will think you’re a genius, and you will get more customers. It works for local, regional, and national advertising campaigns.

The map above shows a 25-minute drive-time zone around a retail location in Burbank, California. This is a basic estimate of how far people will drive, in a major urban setting, to get to a store. Now, let’s say this retailer was considering a promotion on cable TV. Here’s how the cable zones would overlay that driving footprint:


You can visually see the waste. Anything outside the yellow line is advertising spent on customers who won’t drive near your store. But how do you actually remove the waste? Take 6 simple steps.

1. List the ZIP Codes within each cable area, and the corresponding number of households
2. List the ZIP Codes only within the drive zone, and the households
3. Match the ZIPs
4. Create a business rule for how much waste you will tolerate — for example, any cable zone with fewer than 50% of households in the drive zone gets removed
5. Kill the cable zones in your media plan that fall below this threshold
6. Count up the before and after households, and you’ll see the savings.

Without this analysis, here is what a cable buy in the Burbank, Calif. area would look like. Mediassociates found that an untargeted buy from an inept media planner would spray 6.3 million households with cable ads, yet only 3.8 million of these homes would be in the driving range of the store — for 38.92% waste:

With a drive-time analysis, the cable buy would look like this: A targeted flight reaching 3.2 million households, of which 3.0 million are in driving range, for only 7.66% media waste. Cable zones highlighted in gray were removed from the media plan.

The lesson learned: If you have regional territories or retail locations, plot your media carefully. Doing so can save you 31% or more of your advertising budget. Without this media planning analysis, you might as well take one-third of your ad dollars and throw them in the trash.

Why 7% of Facebook is worth more than 53% of MySpace


No, we’re not talking about Microsoft’s $240 million deal. Instead, we’re comparing the portion of visible real estate on Facebook vs. MySpace pages dedicated to advertising. Just look at the MySpace image above. 53% of the page shocks and awes you with advertising, numbing the senses with Will Smith doing something futuristic before a broken bridge. By comparison, ads on Facebook take up only 7% of the screen.

You don’t need to be a designer to see the difference. The Facebook format is superior, standing out with a single, solid impression, a visual equivalent of a polite hello. The MySpace ad shows up at the doorway screaming bloody murder. Worse, no one at MySpace seems to be considering the adverse impact of this quasi-porn layout — which surely scares off a sizable professional networking audience.

Microsoft, we’re happy you married Facebook. Really. Good luck consummating the new ad strategy. Just, please, since Facebook is a dear friend to us … be gentle.